Friday, March 28, 2008

Bird Watchers Urgently Needed to Track Rusty Blackbirds - Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Bird Watchers Urgently Needed to Track Rusty Blackbirds

Click on image to enlarge - Hi-Res photo 300dpi image - Photo credit: Martjan Lammertink/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Contact: Pat Leonard -
(607) 254-2137
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

For immediate release:

March 27, 2008

Bird Watchers Urgently Needed to Track Rusty Blackbirds - Citizen Scientists Use eBird to Monitor Alarming Drop in Numbers

Populations of Rusty Blackbirds are crashing. Their numbers have plummeted as much as 88-98% over the last few decades, according to data gathered from 1966 to 2006 by the North American Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count. Bird watchers across North America are being asked to help scientists track migrating Rusty Blackbirds, April 1-7. They can enter their tallies online at eBird, a bird checklist project developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon:

A century ago, the Rusty Blackbird was an incredibly abundant bird. Accounts from the period detail spectacular spring migrations between the species’ wintering grounds in the bottomland forests of the southeastern United States and its breeding grounds in the forested wetlands of North America’s vast boreal forest. Ornithological reports from New England and southern Canada describe waves of tens to hundreds of thousands of Rusty Blackbirds blackening the earth and clouding the sky in the spring. In many communities, the migration of Rusty Blackbirds was likened to the year’s first chorus of tree frogs­a sign that spring had finally arrived.

These reports stand in stark contrast to the situation today. Rusty Blackbird populations have suffered one of most staggering population declines of any bird in North America. A better understanding of the Rusty Blackbird’s habitat requirements is key to conserving its remaining populations. Spring migration is an especially critical time. Rusty Blackbirds congregate in large flocks which may be particularly vulnerable to habitat losses, blackbird control programs, or other disturbances. Unfortunately, very little is known about the natural history requirements of the Rusty Blackbird during its northward migration.

Scientists at Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are appealing to bird watchers to help fill this information gap by looking for Rusty Blackbirds migrating north April 1-7. The data collected and reported through eBird will help identify important migration stopover locations and habitats for conservation. It will help researchers examine whether
long-term changes to key migration habitats are responsible for the species’ decline. If you are interested in participating, please collect the following information, then visit (see link below) to send your observations, taking note of:

Date, time, and location of the observations

Rusty Blackbird flock size, including an estimate of number of males vs. females.

General behavior: flying, feeding, loafing (day), roosting (dawn, dusk, night).

Habitat: agricultural field, scrub-shrub wetland, forested wetland,shores of rivers or creeks, shores of lakes or ponds.

Comments: Please include “Rusty Blackbird Survey” in the comments section so scientists can determine whether you were specifically looking for Rusty Blackbirds during your birding expedition.

Rusty Blackbirds are uncommon blackbirds typically found in wooded swamps and damp forests. At this time of year, their feathers are mostly blackish with females having some rusty edges to the wings and body. Both sexes have “staring” pale eyes. They can sometimes be confused with other species such as the Common Grackle and the Brewer’s Blackbird. However the grackle is larger and both these look-alikes have longer tails and thicker bills than the Rusty Blackbird. The Brewer’s is also found primarily in open fields rather than wooded areas. The female Red-winged Blackbird bears some resemblance to the Rusty Blackbird but has streaking on its underparts. Read more on identifying Rusty Blackbirds at:

EBird - Rusty Blackbird Survey

The eBird project was launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. It currently receives up to 50,000 bird checklists per month, providing raw data for maps and charts that reveal trends in bird populations and distribution across North America, Mexico, and the Caribbean­one of the largest databases
of bird observations in the world.


Media Note: If you need a high-resolution image of the Rusty Blackbird, please email Pat Leonard at

More information about Rusty Blackbirds:

Audubon Watch List: Link

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center: Link